Tips for dealing with defiance while also encouraging growth

Between 2 and 4 years of age, among all the amazing milestones your daughter is reaching, chances are you have already encountered a dreaded marker of your little one’s social and emotional development: defiance.

The experience of being a toddler or a preschooler is filled with curiosity, imagination and also an increasing need for autonomy and exploring boundaries. With a still developing prefrontal cortex, you can imagine how, being a young kid in a world of grown-ups, she enjoys and is happy to assert all the power and control she might get her hands on. At times, parenting a small kid can be very frustrating, especially when confronted with a continuous stream of no’s, but if you think of this behavior as your daughter’s way of exploring her newly found independence you will be able to respond in a nurturing way that will continue to encourage growth, autonomy and exploration. Here are some tips on how to do so:

• Think “what’s the message that my child is trying to communicate by saying no?”. Your child is not being defiant in order to frustrate you, she is trying to express something.
• Recognize your child’s actions and feelings, and try not to engage in a power struggle. Instead, try to voice what’s happening.
• When anticipating a “no”, try and change the question or task into one where there’s room for your child to make some decisions and exert a bit of control. For example, you can ask your daughter which toys does she want to pick up first.
• Try to empathize with what your child is experiencing and why she is refusing to engage with it.
• Model responding instead of reacting. Your kid is learning how to self-regulate herself and how to assert independence by watching you.
• Ask her to be your important helper.
• Encourage putting feelings into words and other ways of self-expression.
• Remember it’s not personal, its developmental!

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